SEPANG, Malaysia – Double world Moto GP champ Marc Marquez managed to hold off the wily nine-time world champion Doctor – Valentino Rossi – in an excellent race in sweltering 35C heat and 70% humidity in Malaysia. Marquez was expected to win after brilliant practice and qualifying sessions, but Rossi’s performance was a surprise after his pre-race runs had been pretty much a shambles. Third went to Rossi’s team-mate, early leader Jorge Lorenzo.
In the Moto 2 action, Esteve ‘Tito’ Rabat collected the world title in the class with a measured run to third. His Marc VDS team-mate Mika Kallio, the only one mathematically able to challenge Rabat, did his best and managed to beat Rabat but had to finish second to a very on-form Maverick Viñales, taking his third win in the last four races.
And Moto 3 provided the usual wham-bam thank-you-ma’am action with the win going to Efren Vazquez in the last corner, closely followed by Jack Miller, who closed the gap to series leader Alex Marquez to only 11 points heading into the last race. The contest was soured post-race when Marquez and his team protested Miller and his team-mate Danny Kent for rough riding and interference, a bit rich after Marquez had ridden Miller off into the gravel a few races back at Aragon without penalty. Race Direction quite correctly tossed the complaints and told everyone to settle down and behave themselves at the final race.
It was a classic performance by Marquez, who after dominating practice and qualifying got his usual indifferent start from pole and ended up seventh after the first corner mêlée. He quickly pushed back and caught up to Yamaha team-mates Rossi and Pedrosa, eventually getting by both of them for the victory, although he was hounded to the flag by Rossi. ‘The Doctor’ said that Marquez’ victory was simply the result of the young ace being able to ride faster on worn tires.
In the post-race interviews Marquez said, “Today the strongest opponent was the weather!” prompting Rossi to nudge him and ask, “Not me?”, sending them both into gales of laughter.
Marquez’s victory is the 12th of his second season in MotoGP, equaling Mick Doohan’s record of most premier class victories in a single season. The result also seals the premier class Constructor’s title for Honda and ends a run of four Yamaha victories.
Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) took the early initiative in the race after a crash by Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, a favourite for the win after his practice runs and two previous wins here. He lost the front on lap 2, got back up and recovered to 11th, then crashed again.
“I was not pushing on the limit,” said a puzzled Lorenzo,”and I have the same fall [twice]. After the second crash I clearly understood that I did nothing wrong … we checked the data and it says the same. It’s very strange and something must have went wrong and that’s it unfortunately.”
Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) took the lead at midrace stage as he got in front of Lorenzo and was followed through by Marquez. Two laps later Marquez pushed in front of the Italian and built up a sufficient gap to maintain a lead to the finish.
An unhappy Pedrosa blamed himself for dropping off the pace, saying “The conditions were very hot all weekend, especially in the race – I think the hottest since I’ve been competing. Today you had to be very fit to finish the race in good shape and I think I wasn’t, because we made a strategy to train softer and I arrived at the weekend very tired … It was our mistake and today my physical condition in the middle of the race wasn’t the best.” He also lost a rubber tank pad, so ended up sliding around on the bike under braking, not a great help under any conditions.
Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda MotoGP) and Bradley Smith (Monster / Tech 3 Yamaha) both rode great races, Bradl just edging the Brit to the line for fourth as Smith closed in on the last lap, only to run wide on the final corner.
Smith’s team-mate Pol Espargaro rode bravely to sixth, having broken a bone in his foot in a big crash on Saturday.
Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) was on course for another fourth before he dropped several positions to eighth in the final laps, apparently suffering from a brake issue. Earlier, his team-mate Cal Crutchlow was also on course for fourth when his bike quit – “It was a complete electronic failure because of a snapped wire and that was it. I’m really disappointed because I had really good pace and pace to be fourth today – not a problem, without a shadow of a doubt.”
Aleix Espargaro (NGM Forward Racing) got punted off-track for the second time in two races when he and Alvaro Bautista (GO&FUN Honda Gresini) got together on the second lap.
The top 10 was completed by Yonny Hernandez (Pramac Ducati), Dovizioso, Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing Ducati), and Scott Redding ( GO&FUN Honda Gresini).
Unlike the last race in Australia, the field spread out fairly quickly, although the action at the front was hot and heavy. Marc VDS team-mates Rabat and Kallio broke away early, with Maverick Viñales and Dominique Aegerter close behind. Kallio’s only chance to win this year’s title from his team-mate was to split and grab the win while hoping for some problem for Rabat.
In the event, he did finish ahead of the Spaniard, but another one in the form of Viñales took the victory. Viñales is seriously on-form for his last season (also his first!) in Moto 2, as he’s joining Suzuki for their re-entry to Moto GP next season.
Rabat finished well clear of final fourth-place Johann Zarco, who was only a couple of tenths ahead of Aegerter and Julian Simon. The rest of the top 10 were Snadro Cortese, Thomas Luthi, Jonas Folger, and Marcel Shrotter.
This was the usual gang battle drafting-fest. Aussie Jack Miller needed to beat Alex Marquez to make up points on the leader before the final race if he hopes to take the title before hopping to the LCR team in Moto GP next year.
He didn’t win, with Efren Vazquez grabbing his second-ever victory in the last corner, but he did finish second, with Marquez back in fifth. Those three, plus Miller’s team-mate Danny Kent, Marquez’ team-mate Alex Rins, and Scot Jack McPhee were all in the mix for the win up to the last lap, with McPhee crashing out and Kent squeezing Marquez back to fifth. In a classic display of bad temper and poor sportsmanship, Marquez and his team protested Miller and Kent, only to be told to man up and go home.
Miller and Marquez certainly raced hard, and definitely touched at least four times, but Race Direction determined it was simply “hard but fair” racing, which it was. Miller said, “I just put my bike where he wanted to be. I didn’t drive my bike into him. I just made it difficult for him to turn into the corner. If I deliberately wanted him to crash I could quite easily drive my bike into the side of him and he’d be on the floor. But I didn’t want this. I just wanted to race as clean as possible but make it difficult for him to try and get as many bikes between myself and him.”
The two have had something of an attitude for one another ever since Aragon, when Marquez ran Miller off the track into a crash; Miller didn’t formally protest but certainly hasn’t gone out of his way to make life easy for the Spaniard ever since.
With only 11 points separating them before the last race in two weeks, Valencia is bound to provide even more spectacular racing than usual.
Next and final race, November 9, Valencia, Spain
Moto GP standings after 17 of 18 races
- Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 337 points (champion)
- Valentino Rossi, Italy, Movistar Yamaha, 275
- Jorge Lorenzo Spain, Movistar Yamaha, 263
- Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 230
- Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 174
- Pol Espargaro, Spain, Monster / Tech 3 Yamaha, 126
- Bradley Smith, U.K., Monster / Tech 3 Yamaha, 119
- Aleix Espargaro, Spain, NGM Forward Racing Yamaha, 117
- Stefan Bradl, Germany, LCR Honda, 109
- Andrea Iannone, Italy, Pramac Racing Ducati, 102
Moto 2 standings after 17 of 18 races
- Esteve Rabat, Spain, Marc VDS Racing Team Kalex, 326 points (champion)
- Mika Kallio, Marc VDS Racing Team Kalex, 289
- Maverick Viñales, Spain, Paginas Amarillas HP 40 Kalex, 274
- Thomas Luthi, Switzerland, Interwetten Sitag Suter, 169
- Dominque Aegerter, Switzerland, Technomag carXpert Suter, 162
Moto 3 standings after 17 of 18 races
- Alex Marquez, Spain, Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda, 262 points
- Jack Miller, Australia, Red Bull KTM Ajo KTM, 251
- Alex Rins, Spain, Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda, 226
- Efren Vazquez, Spain, SaxoPrint-RTG Honda 212
- Romano Fenati, Italy, SKY Racing Team VR46 KTM, 174